Wednesday, October 23, 2013

These shackles must be removed

On October 24, 2013, the Saudi English language paper, Saudi Gazette printed several articles on the Saudi women driving issues. This is one of several notable stories. A link to the opinion piece below is here, and it's pasted below.

Dr. Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen Hammad
The definition of harassment in the regulation for protection from harassment includes psychological maltreatment of women. To prevent women from being mistreated, we should nullify all the laws and regulations in which there is discrimination by men against women. This includes restricting the movement of women by preventing them from driving in spite of the following:

• The nonexistence of conditions in the Shariah forbidding women from driving. Furthermore, several scholars support women driving. They include Sheikh Qais Al-Mubarak, member of the Board of Senior Scholars, Abdullah Al-Manee’, Al-Hakami, Rashed Al-Mubarak, Abdullateef Al Al-Sheikh, President of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and former judge in Hail Court. Al-Mutlaq stated to Sabq online daily on June 4, 2009, “The Shariah never mentioned preventing women from driving. I am conducting an integrated study, according to which women can be allowed to drive cars. This study intends to ward off evil.

• the expatriate driver in the Saudi society. I call for allowing women to drive soon, especially since women in the suburbs and villages have been driving cars since decades. No problems have been registered against women driving in the villages at all. On the contrary, they have won respect for their bravery and abide by the traffic regulations more than men.”

• There are those who say that the wives of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to ride camels and horses accompanied by a mahram. There is a contradiction between this and what Asma Bint Abubakr (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “I was carrying date seeds on my head from Al-Zubair’s land, which was granted to him by the Prophet (pbuh). Once I came with the date seeds on my head and met the Prophet (pbuh) who had several of the Ansar (helpers) with him. He called me and made the camel carrying him sit, as he wanted to carry me behind him. I felt ashamed to move with men. I recalled Al-Zubair and his jealousy. He was one of the most jealous people. The Prophet (pbuh) understood that I felt shy, so he went his way.”

This hadith (saying) proves that the wives of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to move from one place to another without being accompanied by their mahrams either walking or by riding animals. If it were necessary for a woman to be accompanied by her mahram when riding an animal, the Prophet (pbuh) would not have made his camel sit so that she would sit behind him. The Prophet (pbuh) was not her mahram.

• It also contradicts history, which states that women participated in battles. They used to ride horses without being accompanied by their mahram. Among these women was Khawlah Bint Al-Azwar who fought against the Romans to save her brother who was taken as a prisoner. She was on a horse and masked. People thought that she was Khaled Bin Al-Waleed (may Allah be pleased with him). In modern times, during the wars of the late King Abdul Aziz against the Ottoman Turks, a woman from the Arabs of Al-Bugoum from Turabah named Ghaliyah Al-Bugoumiyah led her tribe’s army and defeated the Ottomans.

• Despite women’s complete eligibility, like men tp have freedom of movement as their right, why are men granted these rights and women deprived? Till when will Saudi women remain under the custody (guardianship) of men and society?

• The nonexistence of traffic regulations forbidding women from driving and the lack of means of public transport and our children and women being subjected to the dangers of drivers including harassment, rape and blackmail are aspects that should be greatly considered.

• Women in Saudi Arabia have been driving in industrial cities like Jubail, Yanbu and Aramco. Aramco city estimates indicate that there are 5,000 Saudi women, who obtained driving licenses from Bahrain and several other GCC countries. Their experience is not different from what is known in other countries. This is an indication that there is social agreement to accept women driving. Some suggest this process should be gradual by recruiting female drivers, then expatriate women should be granted licenses and after that Saudi women can obtain driving licenses. The reason is to prevent society from shock. This is illogical. Saudi women in villages, rural complexes, the desert and Aramco have been driving for decades. Now Saudi women are working in hospitals, shops selling women’s items and in supermarkets. They have become members of the Board of Directors of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, literary clubs and the Shoura Council and soon they will be members of the municipal councils. All this is evidence that society is accepting women driving.

As to recruiting expatriate female drivers, this will deepen the problem of recruitment and will double the crimes of housekeepers because female drivers will know all the secrets of the homes. If a Saudi woman goes shopping or to the bank or any visit, will the female driver wait for her on the street or will she accompany her wherever she goes? What about the female driver taking the sons to their secondary schools or to their friends and colleagues?

This insistence by some to prevent women from driving is a kind of immorality because they want women to remain under the guardianship of men. Women’s driving means they become leaders. What is important to men is that they lead women, whoever they might be even if they are not a mahram.

I hope the Shoura Council will discuss the draft regulation on women driving presented through a recommendation from three female members in the Council. The debate on women driving in Saudi cities should be decided on. They should be permitted to drive the way other Saudi women in the suburbs, villages and Saudi industrial cities are doing. I remind the male Shoura Council members who might object to women driving that the Kingdom is complying with Article Eight of the Basic System of Governance that is based on justice, consultation (Shoura) and equality. Article 26 of the Basic System states that the state is committed to protecting human rights.

Women’s driving is their right and barring them from driving contradicts justice and equality. I remind them of the Kingdom’s compliance with the International Declaration for Human Rights. The first paragraph of Article 13 of this declaration states: “Every individual has freedom of movement and choose where he will stay within the borders of each country.” The Kingdom is also committed to the CEDAW Agreement. Paragraph Four of Article 15 which states: “The countries will grant men and women the same rights with regard to legislation related to movement of people…” The Kingdom did not have reservations against these two articles. As parliamentarians they are bound by the international agreements the state has complied with. Therefore, the regulation on protection from psychological harm can protect women due to the psychological and material harm inflicted on them by restricting their movement. These shackles should be removed.

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